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Large Schools Boys Basketball Playoff Preview

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CLOQUET—When Dillon Johnson opens the Internet on his iPhone, the first website that opens is Minnesota-Scores.net.

The Lumberjacks scored the top seed in this week’s Section 7AAA boys basketball playoffs, but not without constant computer screen-watching over the last month as teams jockeyed for position via the Quality Results Formula.

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The QRF, a ranking and seeding instrument for the past several seasons, had Cloquet (21-4) ranked second behind six-time defending section champion Grand Rapids most of the season, even following the Lumberjacks’ 58-39 Monday afternoon victory over Duluth Denfeld to claim their first Lake Superior Conference championship outright since 1985.

Tuesday morning, however, Cloquet crept into tiebreaker range, where their 51-29 trampling of the Thunderhawks Dec. 5, lunged the Lumberjacks into the well-deserved top slot.

“These kids have earned the No. 1 seed,” said Cloquet Coach Steve Battaglia at a more-enthusiastic-than-usual practice Tuesday afternoon. “We’re glad it shook out.”

Battaglia was the first to say he enjoys the website tremendously — he admitted to visiting regularly — but doesn’t think the QRF should be used as a seeding tool among statewide sections.

The Lumberjacks, which host bottom-seeded Hibbing Friday at 7 p.m. to open the postseason, have won four games in a row, eight of their past nine, and surely have the tools to qualify for their first state tournament since 2000.

Led by sturdy senior center Adam Laine, the school’s all-time scoring leader (he’s currently sitting at 1,729 career points) as well an effective surrounding cast of 10 players, Cloquet could pose problems for anyone they face in March.

“We feel if we play the game we’ve been playing, we can come out of here,” said Laine between free-throw drills Tuesday. “But anything can happen.”

Battaglia agreed, noting although they enjoy the number next to their name nowadays, three wins are still needed.

“No. 1 guarantees nothing,” he said. “Rapids is still the six-time reigning champs until somebody unseats them.”

Johnson, who was teary-eyed after last year’s third section final loss to the Thunderhawks over the past five seasons, said Tuesday the goal is the state tournament, no matter what way.

“That would be the best wish I could ever ask for,” Johnson said. “We’re going to go as hard as we can go.”

According to Minnesota-Scores.net, they’re the favorites.

And Minnesota-Scores.net is the team’s favorite.

“My tab is always on,” said Maxx Brenner of his phone.

“It’s the first thing that pops up,” Johnson added.

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